Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes
Synopsis: A cryptic message from Bond’s past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organization. While M battles political forces to keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers of deceit to reveal the terrible truth behind SPECTRE.
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It’s difficult not to be struck by how similar the beginning of Sam Mendes’ Spectre is to its ending. Both feature spectacularly collapsing buildings and out-of-control helicopters, and one can’t help concluding that their similarity is symptomatic of Spectre’s contribution to the 007 canon: it delivers everything we’ve seen before while adding nothing new to the familiar ingredients. Skyfall‘s underlying theme of Bond’s apparent growing obsolescence in an era of global surveillance is expanded upon in Spectre, and is allocated a more overtly sinister status which serves to ensure the need for rogue agents like Bond in a world that appears to have moved on. Unlike in Skyfall, however, Bond’s physical condition is no longer an issue, as is boundlessly apparent from the breathless action sequences that are liberally scattered between a rather threadbare plot.
It’s customary for movies to save their biggest set-piece for the final act, but Spectre breaks with tradition by treating us to a pre-credits sequence which has the unfortunate consequence of putting everything else that follows in the shade. Featuring a Touch of Evil tracking shot that follows a skull-masked Bond from the midst of the ghoulish celebrations of Mexico City’s Day of the Dead to a rooftop assassination attempt, and concludes with a thrilling fist-fight in a helicopter careering uncontrollably above the heads of the festival’s celebrants, this set piece offers the promise of great things to come. And there is much to enjoy in Spectre, but we have to pick our way through a lot of rather ordinary filler material to find it.
After the credits – featuring a soulful but plaintive song from Sam Smith – we find Bond in a familiar situation, flirting mildly with the comely Miss Moneypenny (Naomie Harris – 28 Days Later, After the Sunset) before receiving his customary reprimand from M (Ralph Fiennes – Schindler’s List) for his unsanctioned mission in Mexico. It turns out that Bond was fulfilling the wishes of M’s predecessor (Judi Dench – J. Edgar, Philomena) after receiving a DVD in which she instructed him to execute his victim in the case of her death. Bond’s acquiescence to her wishes sees him receiving a suspension, which he puts to good use by investigating the meaning of a cryptic reference his last victim made to the Pale King.
Spectre’s plot sees Bond following a breadcrumb trail of clues that lead him to the lair of Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz – Inglourious Basterds, Big Eyes), a megalomaniac with an army of uniformed guards at his command. The diminutive Oberhauser puts one in mind of retro-villains like Dr. No, although his introduction proper (after a brief early appearance) sends the plot off in a direction that is sadly reminiscent of a movie featuring one of Bond’s pale imitators of the 1960s (Helm or Flint, perhaps). It’s a shame, because Waltz has the potential to be a truly memorable Bond villain but ends up coming across as a spoiled juvenile, albeit it one with a host of nasty toys at his disposal. Bond’s physical nemesis comes in the hulking form of former WCW wrestler Dave Bautista who, as the mute Hinx, at least offers some real menace. Apart from the opening sequence, it’s Bond’s bruising fight with Hinx that provides the film’s most visceral slice of action, and reassuringly precedes Bond’s wooing of his female companion (the willowy French actress Lea Seydoux) at a time when most of us would be embarking upon a lengthy spell of recuperation.
Ironically, while the pace of the movie picks up considerably in the final third, the plot pretty much falls apart, springing a big twist which provides Oberhauser with perhaps the most infantile excuse imaginable for wanting Bond dead. Similarly, the showdown in the derelict former Intelligence headquarters, which Oberhauser has somehow had the time to festoon with strategically-placed red ribbons and photographs of Bond’s former foes, is so horribly cliched one can only marvel at how Mendes and his team considered it to be a suitable finale.
Despite these shortcomings, the franchise still knows what pushes its fans buttons, and most of the action is of a standard one would expect. The location photography is sumptuous, the action flawlessly staged, and Craig continues to be the best Bond since Connery, which is no mean feat considering he’s yet to be furnished with material of the quality with which his predecessor worked.
(Reviewed 31st October 2015)